By MITCH LIES
After nine consecutive years of growth, membership in the Oregon Farm Bureau decreased slightly this past year, according to OFB Executive Vice President Dave Dillon.
The decline in both farm and associate members has less to do with the Bureau's performance and more to do with the economy, consolidation within the industry and other factors, Dillon said. But the Bureau is taking steps to ensure members recognize its benefits and to attract new members.
"We're still bullish about our organization's future," Dillon said, "but we're trying to be proactive and get out there and get things done."
One direction the Bureau is taking, Dillon said, involves increasing the Bureau's appeal to young farmers.
"We realize that we have to do a better job of appealing to new, younger farmers and ranchers," he said.
To date, Dillon said, that effort seems to be doing well.
"We have a very strong group of younger leaders who are doing a very good job of sharing the value of Farm Bureau with the younger generation," Dillon said. "Our young farmer program had its best participation in memory at our annual meeting last month. We had over 80 participants in a day-long conference."
Dillon said the Bureau also can't overlook the needs of older farmers.
"Both of those are important groups and we need to be effective for both of those groups and we need to let both of those groups know that we are effective for them in a way that is going to connect with their generation," Dillon said.
The situation with the Oregon Farm Bureau is not unique among membership organizations, Dillon said.
"For any membership organization, these are tough times," Dillon said, "whether it is a charitable organization, a civic organization or a religious organization."
The Oregon Farm Bureau's situation also isn't unique within Farm Bureau organizations.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which is holding its 94th Annual Meeting Jan. 13-16 in Nashville, Tenn., failed to grow in members this past year for the first time in 50 years, Dillon said.
"Part of it is the economic cycle," Dillon said. "Part of it is the challenge with membership organizations. And part of it is attributable to consolidation that has happened in the industry."
Dues for Oregon Farm Bureau members are set by county Farm Bureaus. They top out at $125 a year, Dillon said. Full farm membership decreased from 7,294 in 2011 to 7,247 in 2012.
Associate members pay $15 a year. The number of associate members decreased from 59,598 in 2011 to 59,223 in 2012.
The Oregon Farm Bureau serves members through several avenues, including offering discounts for prescriptions, hotels and cell phones, and through farm-policy advocacy on the state and federal level.
"I think most farmers realize that it doesn't take much of a win in the regulatory process or the legal process to make that ($125) a good investment," Dillon said. "But before people know that is a good investment, you have to communicate (the win) to them."